The traditionally staid American Academy of Arts and Letters is both charmed and flummoxed by Bob Dylan. The academy announced Wednesday that it voted the musician into its ranks -- its first rock musician ever. But he will be an honorary member: Not for the first time, people couldn’t figure out how to classify Dylan.
“Bob Dylan is a multi-talented artist whose work so thoroughly crosses several disciplines that it defies categorization," executive director Virginia Dajani told the Associated Press.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 and has a roster of just 250 members. New members -- apart from honorary ones, like Dylan -- are voted in only after a sitting member dies.
Writer Ward Just was voted in as a full member alongside minimalist artist Richard Tuttle and painter and printmaker Terry Winters.
New honorary members include another author, South Africa’s Damon Galgut. In addition to him and Dylan, two other honorary members were named: Spanish architect Rafael Moneo and Belgian artist Luc Tuymans.
Although Dylan is the first rock musician to be dubbed an honorary member, the academy has extended that honor to other pop-culture figures in the past. Most come from the world of film, including Martin Scorcese, Meryl Streep and Woody Allen.
The academy also announced a roster of literary grants Wednesday. One of the prestigious Rome Fellowships -- which send promising American authors to the American Academy in Rome for a year -- went to Peter Bognanni, who won the L.A. Times Book Prize’s Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction for his book, “House of Tomorrow.” The fellow joining Bognanni in Rome will be Peter Streckfus.
Three $20,000 prizes were awarded: the Benjamin H. Danks Award for an exceptional playwright went to Amy Herzog; the E.M. Forster Award, to allow a young writer from Britain or Ireland to stay in the U.S., went to Adam Foulds; and the John Updike Award for a mid-career writer of excellence went to Jennifer Egan.
Arts and Letters Awards in Literature, each worth $7,500, went to Katherine Boo, Joanna Klink, playwright Neil LaBute, Bill McKibben, Bruce Norris, Darryl Pinckney, poet D.A. Powell and Brad Watson. Kevin Powers won the $5,000 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction.
Five $10,000 awards were announced. the Award of Merit Medal for outstanding short-story writing will go to Lydia Davis; the Addison M. Metcalf Award for a young writer to Mischa Berlinski; the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award to a young writer for work published in 2012 to Claire Vaye Watkins; the E.B. White Award for children’s literature to Natalie Babbitt and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award, for prose quality, to Christopher Benfey.
With all those awards named after artists and donors, maybe someday there will be a Bob Dylan Prize for rock music, or folk music, or songwriting, or poetry, or filmmaking, or memoir ...